Victims of human trafficking still underreported

The gap between the number of reported victims and the total number of victims of human trafficking remains. Since 2015, the number of identified victims reported to CoMensha (Coordination Centre against Human Trafficking) has decreased: in 2017 only 958 victims were identified. ‘We cannot turn a blind eye to this. Countering human trafficking is a top priority in the Netherlands, so it is imperative that more victims are identified and protected’, says the Dutch National Rapporteur on the Trafficking of Human Beings, Herman Bolhaar.

Especially the identification of Dutch victims of sexual exploitation lags behind: in 2014-2015, approximately 365 victims were reported. In 2017, the number has dropped to 263. This is despite the fact that domestic sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking. The decrease in identified victims could be because victims are forced to work in sectors that are less transparent to the enforcement authorities, such as escort services or home-based work. 66 per cent of all victims of sexual exploitation in 2013-2015 was exploited in these sectors. Over the years 2016-2017 this increased to 81 per cent.

Significant differences between regional police units

The number of victims reported by the police fell considerably over the past few years. In 2013, 75 per cent of the total number of reports was provided by the police, compared to 34 per cent in 2017. There are also big differences in reporting between the different police regions, which cannot be explained by variations in the number of inhabitants. Four regional units report over 75 per cent of all cases on domestic sexual exploitation, while the remaining six units report the other quarter. National Rapporteur Bolhaar: ‘It is important to further investigate where these differences in reporting come from, so that all police units are equipped to combat human trafficking in a successful manner.’

Permission needed due to privacy legislation

Organisations without investigative powers (such as youth care institutions, NGO’s and care coordinators) have to ask victims for written permission before they can report their case to CoMensha. These organisations are raising alarm because it is becoming increasingly difficult to report cases to CoMensha due to privacy legislation. Bolhaar is also worried about this development: ‘Reports of this sector accounted for 40 per cent of all cases reported last year. If these organisations will be unable to report, we will miss valuable information that is needed for monitoring the effectiveness of government policies. We already know that only an estimated 1 in 6 victims is reported. If the threshold for reporting becomes even higher, the gap will become even bigger. It is important that we find a solution in accordance with privacy legislation.’

Protection of non-Dutch victims

The National Rapporteur also looked into the number of non-Dutch victims of human trafficking who use the Human Trafficking Residence Scheme. This policy offers residence and protection to victims and encourages them to cooperate with the detection and prosecution of the trafficker. The analysis in the monitor shows that one third of all victims who have made use of the Human Trafficking Residence Scheme at some point opt out of the scheme and instead apply for asylum. This means that they no longer receive the specific protection offered to foreign victims of human trafficking. If victims exclusively choose for an asylum procedure, this also means that the police doesn’t receive valuable information that can be used to prosecute human traffickers. Therefore, the National Rapporteur recommends that the Minister for Migration further investigates the reasons why these victims favour the asylum procedure over the Human Trafficking Residence Scheme.